Some critics of education quip that teachers need to change, as if we don’t face change on a weekly, a daily, a minute-to-minute basis. Think about all the changes you were expected to make in just the last year of your teaching.
Ten. That’s the number – a conservative estimate – of changes we faced as a school just last year. And they weren’t simple, “fix-it-in-a-day” changes. I’m talking brand new PD programs, new schedule adjustments, new assessments, new curricula, new administrators.
And this is leaving out all the changes we teachers wanted to make in our classrooms daily and weekly. I could go on a soap box right now, but I’ll step down and simply say this: We aren’t struggling because of a lack of change; we are struggling because of too much change all at once.
But I’m preaching to the choir. You know that. So, given the overwhelming amount of changes we need to make, how do we avoid straining our mental (and physical) energy trying to adapt?
Ben Franklin. That’s how. Introducing the Benjamin Franklin Method of Teaching Perfection.
A little backstory first. We know about Ben Franklin. Dude may or may not have flown a kite to help understand electricity. Dude invented some sweet junk like bifocals and the glass armonica (where would we be as a nation without the glass armonica!?). Dude chummed it up overseas and wrote some stuff to help ‘merica become ‘merica.
One of my favorite things Benny-Boy did though is create a system for self-growth that has helped me calm the storm of educational change. Here’s what he did.
Early in his life, Franklin set out to become morally perfect (didn’t make it there, but that’s beside the point). His system was a thing of logical beauty.
Step 1: He figured out the virtues he wanted to master.
Step 2: He ordered them. But here’s the genius part: Rather than ranking them from “most important to least important,” he ranked them so that accomplishing one made the next one easier. For example, his first virtue was Temperance. “Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation” (a.k.a. don’t gorge on food and get drunk). Guess what his next virtue was: Silence. “Speak not but what may benefit others; avoid trifling conversation” (a.k.a. Don’t hog conversation, gossip, or talk too much). Think about how much easier it is to avoid babbling when you’re sober? Mastering one makes the next easier.
Step 3: He dedicated a strict week’s attention to just one virtue until it was mastered. Every time he made a mistake he would start over. If successful, he would move on to the next. After mastering it, he would attempt to be perfect for a week with both virtues before moving onto the third.
Here’s another beautiful part: If he was working on a certain virtue, he didn’t worry about the other virtues. He let them happen in their natural course, knowing that he would get to them after mastering the other ones first.
A sample of Franklin’s accountability checklist.
That’s it. Simple. Logical. Intentional.
Here’s how it has helped me focus on lasting change despite the hail storm of district changes I face each year.
1. Figure out what changes you want to dedicate your time to this year.
2. Order them so that mastering one makes the next easier. For example, a list could look like:
– Setting a clear foundation with student agreements will help my classroom management;
– Having strong classroom management will make using iPads easier;
– Using iPads will help me collect better formative data;
– Collecting better formative data will help me create more objective rubrics.
3. Set an objective benchmark to know when you’ve improved enough to move on to the next skill.
Ex: “Once I’ve managed students to avoid texting in class for a full week, I’ll move on to using Schoology to collect student responses.”
4. Forgive and adapt.
Mistakes will happen (we’re educating dozens of diverse developing animals after all). Don’t give up your plan for growth, though. Adapt it. Tweak it. Analyze it. But start fresh the next day until you’ve got it down.
Bonus: Having a plan of growth mapped out helps your bosses understand why “District-Demanded Initiative 8” isn’t happening in your classroom . . . yet; You’re a smart cookie and you want to make that change properly.
Other applications of a Franklin focus:
Student Growth Plans
Imagine teaching students this method. Imagine if you coached students to focus on one major area of growth until it was mastered – whether it’s a behavioral need or an academic need.
Life Balance Plans
Apply this to more than just pedagogical growth. Example: Focus for a week on getting 8 hours of sleep, letting every other life challenge – like working out, avoiding the devil (donuts), calling your grandmum – happen as it happens.
So, what will your Franklin-style growth plan look like? Post your comments below and then celebrate logical change with a glass armonica jam session.